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No. 38 - Improving the U.S. Public Diplomacy Campaign In the War Against Terrorism

No. 38 - Improving the U.S. Public Diplomacy Campaign In the War Against Terrorism

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Published by: bowssen on Apr 19, 2010
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Improving the U.S. Public Diplomacy Campaign In the War Against Terrorism
Council on Foreign Relations, November 06, 2001Our ongoing struggle against the perpetrators of the September 11th attacks has manycritical elements. The military campaign in Afghanistan is one; however, anothercampaign of potentially decisive significance is winning the battle for public supportamong Muslims around the world. Indeed, if we are unable to win the battle for heartsand minds, it may prove impossible to carry our military operations through tocompletion. We must create an understanding in the Muslim world of our cause and ouractions that will give their leaders more flexibility to support the U.S. response to the9/11 attacks. Our goal in the public diplomacy campaign must be to demonstrate that theUnited States has a just cause for our actions. We are taking action against those whomurdered our people and as well as to prevent them from threatening us again. This paper is intended to assist the U.S. Administration in its ongoing efforts to prevail inthis crucial struggle. The need for this paper stems from the mixed results the UnitedStates has had in the past with public diplomacy. We applaud the Administration's effortsso far in this crisis-including the establishment of a central coordinating office in theWhite House and offices in London and Islamabad-which reflect both an appreciation forthe importance of the public diplomacy challenge, and a determination to meet it head on.Nevertheless, there is still much to be done. Although the United States is the pre-eminent communications society, we often have great difficulty bringing our resources tobear in this field. We remain convinced that the United States must further broaden andsharpen the message and the messengers we use to persuade the peoples of the world of the justness of our cause.Organization The federal bureaucracy is not configured to handle the demands of a major publicdiplomacy campaign. Public diplomacy is a low bureaucratic priority, as reflected by therelatively low-level officials traditionally assigned to it and the meager resourcesnormally allocated to it. In addition, a successful public diplomacy campaign will requirenot only a high degree of coordination from the U.S. government, but also a high degreeof agility. U.S. public diplomacy efforts need to be nimble enough to take advantagewhen a situation presents itself, and fast enough to respond to negative charges beforethey can take hold in the popular imagination. As part of this effort, the USG will have tobe willing and able to reach beyond traditional bureaucracies to tap Agencies nottraditionally associated with public diplomacy, as well as the private sector.Within the federal bureaucracy, we recommend the following changes:
Launch a comprehensive effort to ascertain how best to wage a public diplomacycampaign in the Middle East and South Asia employing modern public relationsresearch and polling techniques. The U.S. government needs to develop a better
grasp of our target audiences, what they respond to, and how best to reach them.We should employ the most sophisticated tools that modern marketing (andpolitical campaigns) have developed in pursuit of this crucial objective. Likewise,such an effort should also analyze the regional press, their audiences, theirmessages, and how best the U.S. could engage these media sources to get our ownmessages out most effectively.
Closely monitor the public diplomacy campaign at the level of the Principals'Committee (PC). It is not enough for the PC to simply demand a more effectivepublic diplomacy campaign. The bureaucracy focuses its attention on issues thePrincipals discuss-this is the key measure of importance within the government. Ithe PC is not willing to devote attention to it, the bureaucracy will inevitablyrelegate public diplomacy to a secondary priority.
Streamline the review and coordination process for public diplomacy. A keyobstacle to our ability to be pro-active and responsive is the excessivebureaucratic review required before even basic public diplomacy actions can betaken.
Provide adequate resources to allow for a massive augmentation of publicdiplomacy assets. The need to be opportunistic and responsive, and the demandsof polling and research, will especially require large numbers of people and funds.Also, Agencies need to start staffing the public diplomacy effort with top-caliberpersonnel.Because any such expanded Public Diplomacy campaign will cost considerable amountsof money, the Congress must be a key participant in this effort. Indeed, close cooperationwith the Congress is important not only to appropriate the required funding, but also forthe broad political and moral support that only that institution can provide. Likewise,because of the importance of our message, and our reliance on a coalition to fight thiswar, we must ensure that our own public diplomacy efforts are closely coordinated withthose of our allies.Messengers To a certain extent, in this case, the messenger may be more important than the message. The wrong messenger will kill the message, no matter how good it may be. The regionalpopulace is far more likely to find Muslim and Arab interlocutors credible on theseissues. The most important tactic we can take is to find credible proxies who can speakon our behalf rather than shouldering the entire public diplomacy burden ourselves. The Administration must be willing to work with independent interlocutors. It isprecisely this willingness to disagree at times with the USG that makes such peopleimportant interlocutors. Our very willingness to engage our critics demonstrates ourwillingness to take their grievances seriously.
Have senior-level U.S. officials press friendly Arab and other Muslimgovernments not only to publicly condemn the 9/11 attacks, but also to back therationale and goals of the U.S. anti-terror campaign. We are never going to
convince the publics in the Middle East and South Asia of the righteousness of our cause if their governments remain silent. We need to help them to deflect anyblowback from such statements, but we must have them vocally on board.
Create a Public Diplomacy Advisory Board, including, among others, prominentArab- and Muslim-Americans, university professors who work on the Muslimworld, well-known business people who do business in the region, and advertisingand marketing executives with experience in the region. This group should advisethe USG on its public diplomacy campaign and act as a resource and a soundingboard. Its members should also serve as goodwill ambassadors in the region. Ogreatest importance, the Administration's effort should be bipartisan and shouldinclude people who do not necessarily agree with all their policies. Moreover,members of this Board should be encouraged to continue to speak their mindsfreely. (This is not to argue that we should seek out those who radically opposethe Administration's policy or who promote hatred, but that the USG should belooking to engage those who can genuinely be considered independent becausethey are known to have differing views.)
Inaugurate one or more "listening tours" whereby U.S. officials would travel tothe region to meet with government officials, elites and average people alike. Thepeople of the region need to see that we are interested in their concerns. Ideally,the members of the Public Diplomacy Advisory Board (proposed above) could bepart of such an effort.
Launch an aggressive recruiting campaign to bring Arab-Americans, Afghan-Americans and other Muslim-Americans-as well as Arabic speakers, Pashtospeakers, Dari speakers, Farsi speakers, etc.-into the U.S. government. EncourageUSG officials at all levels to learn these regional languages. In the past oneproblem in such efforts has been misplaced security concerns, such as preventingAmericans of Middle Eastern origin from obtaining security clearances becausethey traveled frequently to the Middle East. Such Catch-22s need to be scrutinizedto determine effective compromises.
Encourage Bosnian, Albanian, and Turkish Muslims to educate foreign audiencesregarding the U.S. role in saving the Muslims of Bosnia and Kosovo in 1995-1999, and our long-standing, close ties to Muslims around the world.
Engage regional intellectuals and journalists across the board, regardless of theirviews. We cannot allow them to claim ignorance as a defense, and we need toshow them that we are interested in their opinions.All of this is not to suggest that the United States should give up in terms of engaging inthe public diplomacy battle ourselves. Quite the contrary. The U.S. government needs tobe an active voice both to make sure that the official USG position is well known (and socannot be misrepresented) and misinformation from our adversaries is authoritativelyrebutted. If for no other reason than to show the world that we take regional publicopinion seriously, we need to remain aggressive participants in the public diplomacydebate even as we rely on proxies to strike the most important blows. To this end, thereare additional useful steps we can take:

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